If There Were a Poster Child for Christian Nationalism, It Would Be Ralph Reed

Donald Trump is the natural outgrowth of Reed’s malignant political work, offered up in the name of Jesus.
Ralph Reed. Photo via Faith and Freedom Coalition Facebook page.

Ralph Reed is as slick as ever. And still as wrong as ever.

The one-time wunderkind of the Christian Coalition has gone more underground of late as founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, but he’s still orchestrating and spewing the kind of nonsense that makes evangelicals swoon and smells like heresy to the rest of us. If there were a poster child for Christian nationalism, it would be Ralph Reed.

Now, he wants the world to know “Christian nationalism” is a label Democrats made up to vilify good, hard-working Christian people. And he says it in such a convincing way that you might actually believe him — until you take apart his argument and see that it is built on sinking sand.

Donald Trump is the natural outgrowth of Ralph Reed’s malignant political work, offered up in the name of Jesus.

Reed’s latest snake-oil sales job was published by the venerable Wall Street Journal. Please remember, dear reader, the profound difference between the WSJ opinion pages and news pages. You may rely on America’s business newspaper for market data and analysis in its news coverage, but beware of its far-right editorial page.

‘Smear campaign’

It is in this context that Reed declares there is a “smear campaign against ‘Christian nationalists.’”

Like others before him — including Al Mohler and John MacArthur and Marjorie Taylor Greene — Reed explains that “Christian nationalist” is just a hateful way of saying “committed Christian.” Which is not true. At all.

Christian nationalism is more accurately defined as those who want to merge their version of the Christian faith with American politics, giving them and their allies control not only of government but of society. Christian nationalism presumes the United States was founded as a “Christian nation,” which is a damnable lie.

Public Religion Research Institute and its founder, Robert P. Jones, have developed a five-question scale to assess whether a respondent rejects or embraces Christian nationalism. The five points are:

  • God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.
  • The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.
  • Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.
  • If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.
  • America’s laws should be based on Christian values.

The more of these statements a person affirms, the more strongly they embrace Christian nationalism, according to PRRI. Similar ideas have been advanced by the group Christians Against Christian Nationalism, which is affiliated with Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Biden v. Johnson

Reed takes particular aim at Jones, who has called Speaker of the House Mike Johnson “the embodiment of white Christian nationalism in a tailored suit.”

Speaker Johnson, Reed wants us to know, “stared down anti-Israel protesters at Columbia University last month and affirmed the nation’s support for Jewish students.” That was in contrast, he says, to university administrators and the Biden administration.

Funny, Reed must not have been paying attention to the screaming cries from the left that the Biden administration has been so loyal to Israel that younger Democrats are threatening not to vote for Biden in the fall elections. Yes, the Biden administration’s response to the war in Gaza has been “feeble,” as Reed declares, but not for the reasons he cites.

Biden appears to be afraid of crossing the pro-Israel lobby, which is rooted deep in the Republican Party and among evangelical Christians. And if anything, the Biden administration has taken the cautionary side of the right on the campus protests, again not scoring points with younger Democratic-leaning voters.

A ‘benign constituency’?

The three in 10 Americans PRRI has identified as “Christian nationalism adherents or sympathizers” are surely mislabeled, Reed argues. “It is difficult to imagine a more benign constituency than people who work hard, read the Bible, pray regularly and attend church weekly. Yet according to the liberal narrative, there are millions of them, faithful Christians, disposed toward authoritarianism and political violence.”

Again, Reed appears to be like the Wizard of Oz, caught with the curtain open while declaring, “Nothing to see here.”

The constituency Reed describes as godly is the very group that elected the most immoral, abusive, cruel, self-serving, criminal president in American history — and supports him still even though many of the dirty deeds have been fully exposed. That is not a “benign” constituency.

The constituency Reed describes as godly is the very group that has put such a priority on abolishing abortion in America that women are being maimed by treatable complications from pregnancy no longer allowed because these life-saving treatments are considered “abortion.”

The constituency Reed describes as godly is the very group that is gleefully torturing transgender children and their families, denying access to health care, restrooms and safe education.

The constituency Reed describes as godly is the very group that separated migrant children from their parents at the border and is willing to elect again a president who pledges to resume that heinous practice.

Yes, these self-described Christians are in fact “disposed toward authoritarianism and political violence.”

Misleading Pews statistics

Reed further goes after PRRI’s use of the question, “U.S. laws should be based on Christian values” as a barometer of Christian nationalism adherence. Then he conflates the PRRI criteria with results of a 2020 Pew Research study that he says “found nearly half of Americans believe the Bible should have some influence on U.S. laws.”

He asks: “Are they extremists for sympathizing with such values as helping the poor, showing compassion for immigrants and reforming the criminal-justice system?”

Pardon me, but I have no memory of Reed’s constituency doing any of those things. “Showing compassion for immigrants?” That is laughable.

What he omits is the rest of the data from that Pew study: “About half of Americans (49%) say the Bible should have at least ‘some’ influence on U.S. laws, including nearly a quarter (23%) who say it should have ‘a great deal’ of influence. … Among U.S. Christians, two-thirds (68%) want the Bible to influence U.S. laws at least some, and among white evangelical Protestants, this figure rises to about nine in 10 (89%).”

There is a vast difference between influencing U.S. laws “at least some” and desiring to make biblical law — which is a questionable enterprise on its own — become federal law.

Reed continues: “Suddenly one’s belief in the value of orthodox religious faith — which social science has found is strongly correlated with positive behaviors like marriage, child-rearing, charitable giving and volunteerism — is classified a threat to social stability and our constitutional order.”

He appears to have adopted Tim Keller’s definition of “orthodox” meaning “conservative,” which also is wrong. Nowhere has the church historically defined “orthodox” belief as involving marriage, child-rearing, charitable giving and volunteerism. Those may be important virtues, but they are not part of what it means to be “orthodox” in theology.

Blame the Democrats

And of course, the man who has worked so hard to make Christian faith synonymous with the Republican Party has to take a swipe at the evil Democrats as the real culprits behind all this talk of Christian nationalism.

“One could dismiss this overreaction as crass politics by an unpopular party eager to eke out an election victory by demonizing churchgoing Americans,” he writes. “The Democrats’ strategy of forcing abortion to the center of the 2024 campaign certainly makes pro-lifers convenient bogeymen.”

The transference going on here is worthy of a first-class narcissist. Republican positions on nearly every social issue that matters to them is “unpopular” with voters nationwide but they don’t care because they have gerrymandered their way to perpetual power. And for the love of all that’s holy, how can this man charge with a straight face that Democrats made abortion an election issue in 2024?

Evangelical Christians — and the Republican Party as their surrogates — have made abortion the political issue for 50 years. And the reason it is motivating voters on the left and center this year is because the evangelicals vastly overplayed their hand in getting abortion outlawed so severely in so many places.

‘Who take their faith seriously’

Reed laments “the slandering of evangelical Christians” as “a fashionable but insidious bigotry that seeks to marginalize and disqualify from our civic discourse tens of millions of Americans who take their faith seriously.”

He fails to acknowledge that many of us who oppose his theocratic hopes for the nation also are “Americans who take their faith seriously.” Just as he fails to acknowledge up front that many of those protesting Israel’s genocide in Gaza also are “Americans who take their faith seriously.”

In typical evangelical fashion, he only sees as “faithful” the people who are like him.

And then he has the audacity to compare the anti-abortion movement to the Civil Rights Movement: “The idea that man-made laws that violate God’s law are inherently unjust prevailed in the Civil Rights Movement and served as the central theme of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ The same can be said for today’s pro-life movement.”

If we were to make a Venn diagram of MLK supporters and anti-abortion activists, the overlap would be small. And Reed might ought to check his assumptions with the Black community as well. I’m pretty sure they see things differently than he does.

He goes on to equate the so-called “Christian nationalists” with American revolutionaries, the antislavery movement, the fight for women’s suffrage, the temperance movement and the Second Great Awakening. Seriously?

Rather than seeing Christian nationalists as a bad thing, the nation ought to celebrate them, he concludes: “Like their forebears, today’s conservative Christians make Americans grapple with vexing moral issues. We’re a better nation for their doing so. These faithful men and women don’t threaten our constitutional republic; they play a vital role in its survival and renewal.”

I’m pretty sure everyone who’s not a conservative Christian would see that kind of help as, in fact, threatening the constitutional republic.

This is the kind of sleight of hand Reed has been hawking for years. It’s a sham. It’s a lie. And it’s dangerous. Only now we have a name for it. A name Reed doesn’t like.

Perhaps that’s really why he dislikes Robert Jones so much. It turns out that like Mike Johnson, Ralph Reed is “the embodiment of white Christian nationalism in a tailored suit.”

This article was originally published at Baptist Global News, a reader-supported, independent news organization providing original and curated news, opinion and analysis about matters of faith. You can sign up for their newsletter here. Republished with permission.

Support progressive, independent media.

Picture of Mark Wingfield, Baptist Global News

Mark Wingfield, Baptist Global News

Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global. He is the author of Honestly: Telling the Truth About the Bible and Ourselves and Why Churches Need to Talk About Sexuality.

Top 5

Follow Us

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

* indicates required